The rule makers
If you’ve ever observed kids at play, before too long they start to make up rules. It’s in our nature to control our cultural environment to make it more manageable. When you use your adult experience to judge these ‘play’ rules they often seem arbitrary, unnecessary and limiting. To the children they are real, important and they are often forcefully applied. Child’s play replicates real life. What if we stood back and observed ourselves at work; how many of the rules we have created would seem arbitrary, unnecessary and limiting?
Rules evolve from the need to control. I look at some of the rules I’m governed by and have no idea where they came from. Why is 30mph the speed limit in a built up area? Why does the grouse-shooting season start on the 12th August not the 11th? Why is 9:00 the TV watershed? Why can’t I walk on the grass?
Then there are the workplace rules; you can’t have the internet unless you are a senior manager, you must always sign for the meeting room key, only Directors can use this lift (a rule at a famous football club). Each rigorously enforced but to the casual observer, arbitrary, unnecessary and limiting. When I ask people to collect examples of the written and unwritten rules from around their own environment it often prompts them to ask, why?
Once the rules are established we get custodians of the rules; people who have a stake in maintaining the rules and identify with them. They become emotionally attached to the prescribed way. Their function is to continually limit what can happen. As people start to push the boundaries, new rules are created to stop them. We find rules prescribing ‘best practice’ which means that any other good practice is not allowed. A patriarchal mindset prevails. We do it this way because ‘someone’ knows best. We get the official ‘rule police’ who are employed to ensure the rules are followed and the cultural champions who believe it is right for them to protect the rules.
Interestingly if you read the above paragraph again from the perspective of your own personal rules it becomes easy to understand why people find it hard to break from the norm. We even create our own personal set of immutable legislation to which we become emotionally attached – our mindset.
The odds are stacked against making a step change in performance. The rules are set either formally or informally. They are governed by others and ourselves. They are also used as a credible excuse for inertia, so even when we can see that something is not functioning as we want we claim our hands are tied, there can be no more.
This is not a call for anarchy. Some rules are necessary. All I’m saying is that there are many rules which have evolved to meet a past circumstance which has long since disappeared. It is conceivable that there is the possibility that changing the rules might enable new opportunities to arise. Be prepared to change the rules – then I might not have to carry 2 tonnes of equipment up three flights of stairs just on the off-chance a Director might want to use the lift at 7:00 in the morning!